Monday, September 18, 2006


Hi all,

So the first episode of SURVIVOR: COOK ISLAND has come and gone, and the Earth continues to revolve, pestilence has not descended upon the land, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man is not wreaking delicious, gooey destruction through the streets of Gotham. On the other hand, lots of people remain enraged at Mark Burnett's transparently manipulative decision to segregate this season's teams by race.

I'll admit that when I first heard of the plan, I was horrified; wasn't this just a ripe opportunity for the depiction very worst racial stereotypes?

A quick ping around the ol' social network garnered similar reactions.

"The whole idea of races competing for survival in the jungle is very Bell Curve, and promises to play on the worst of stereotypes…speaking of competing for survival, always interesting to see how low networks will stoop."

"Rather than the model of a melting pot, this follows the logic of the baking pan. When you bake a cake, you have to beat all the wet and the dry ingredients separately, before you can put them together."

And, from Carmen Van Kerckhove of the excellent podcast "Addicted to Race": "I think this is horrendous. They're obviously trying to manufacture a situation where people's racist attitudes come out. I'm sure they'll encourage the use of racial slurs all 'in the spirit of competition.'"

But then there were other--and admittedly, equally resonant--voices, saying that while the concept was admittedly exploitative, it was also intriguing...if only because it offered that rare opportunity of seeing a group of Asian Americans, representing as Asian Americans, in a network-televised event. As some people pointed out, when was the last time you saw five Asian Americans, collaborating as a unit, on prime time? And I'm not counting Chinatown gangster brawls on LAW & ORDER, either. The question was whether the inherent cynicism and crassness of the setup would overwhelm any possible entertainment value--or thought-provoking elements--in the program.

Thus, this week's SFGate column--a liveblogging, or plausibly-liveblogging (yay for TiVo timeshifting!) of SURVIVOR: RACE WAR!'s first episode:


We were all prepared for the show to be a horrible nightmare, and parts of it were--but the general conclusion seemed to be that the program is both more, and much less, than it was cracked up to be.

Were possible stereotypes invoked? Sure, but they were invoked by contestants about their own tribes, and the producers carefully gave individuals context to discuss and in some cases dispell or contextualize them. There didn't seem to be any attempt to frame those stereotypes as "anchored in truth." Arguably, the most stereotypical tribe ended up being the so-called Caucasian tribe (more on the awkward issue of racial labels later), who seem poised to be framed as the show's "common enemy"--potentially, a flashpoint that could lead the show to explode.

In some ways, the race-first format actually generated dialogue about issues that otherwise never get discussed on prime time TV. Take, for example, Asian American stereotypes; usually, they're simply presented as part of television reality--they're never commented upon, and certainly never by Asians themselves. It certainly forced that dialogue among those of us watching, though we admittedly also found ourselves falling under the spell of rooting for the "home team." But then again, it was pointed out, people do that anyway. When the Yankees play the Mariners, I want Ichiro to get four hits and the Mariners to lose in a four-hit shutout. I root for Michelle Kwan and Yao Ming and Michelle Wie and I forced myself to watch HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE, even though it looked like butt, just to support John and Kal. Is that wrong? How is it different from this? Perhaps because race is portrayed as a zero-sum circumstance here? Or because race, rather than college affiliation, national origin, region of residence, or all the other ways we blithely divide ourselves for competitive purposes, is forefronted?

One of the biggest problems, it seemed to me, lay in the simplistic nature of the show's racial categories--what defines "Caucasian," for instance? Is a person whose ancestry stems from Spain Caucasian or Latino? How about a black person whose ancestry is Dominican or Puerto Rican? Where do mixed races fall into the mix? Why were three of the largest Asian American ethnicities (Chinese, Japanese, Indian/South Asian) not represented at all on the Asian tribe?

And of course, there's the issue of what the reaction to the show is going to be among those who unironically embrace Rush Limbaugh's enlightened view of race:

Regarding the new Survivor series, Limbaugh also stated that there "are many characteristics ... that you would think would give [the African-American tribe] the lead, and the heads up in terms of skill and athleticism and so forth." He also stated that "our early money" is on "the Hispanic tribe" -- which he said could include "a Cuban," "a Nicaraguan," or "a Mexican or two" -- provided they don't "start fighting for supremacy amongst themselves." Limbaugh added that Hispanics have "probably shown the most survival tactics," that they "have shown a remarkable ability to cross borders" and that they can "do it without water for a long time, they don't get apprehended, and they will do things other people won't do."

Limbaugh also asserted that "the Asian-American tribe" -- whom he called "the brainiacs of the bunch" -- "probably will outsmart everybody," but while "intelligence is one thing ... raw, native understanding of the land -- this is probably why the Native Americans were excluded, because they were at one with the land and they would probably have an unfair advantage."

He added that "the white tribe," "if it behaves as it historically has," will "bring along vials of diseases" and "will wind up oppressing" the other tribes by "deny[ing] them benefits" and "property," but will later "try to put [the other tribes] on some kind of benefit program." He further asserted that if CBS "allows ... cheating" and "oppression," "then of course the white tribe is going to win."For what it's worth, though Limbaugh has proven time and again that he really does have bigoted and repellent views, he's clearly being as tongue-in-cheek here as we were in our Cook Island klatsch. The problem is that his listeners, the accurately labeled "Dittoheads," are more likely than not to take his words at face value.

But are racists going to become more racist because of SURVIVOR: COOK ISLAND? Doubtful. I don't think they'll become more enlightened, either. Still, the show has forced people who otherwise would ignore the issue of media representation and depiction of people of color to at least enter the dialogue. And somehow, that seems like a net positive.

I ultimately found SURVIVOR: COOK ISLAND far less degrading and racially problematic than, say, VH1's stomach-churning FLAVOR OF LOVE, and less annoying than the fact that comedies like THE CLASS--despite being set in Philadelphia, which, as TV critic Doug Elfman aptly notes, is 46 percent white, 44 percent black and 8 percent Hispanic--have uniformly melanin-free ensemble casts. (The show is created by David Crane of FRIENDS and Jeffrey Klarik of MAD ABOUT YOU, if that explains anything.) You mean you can't find a single performer of color talented enough to cast?

It's even more distressing when you note that TV's most popular dramas tend to be fully integrated. There's just no reasonable or plausible explanation, other than low-grade, blanket racism, expressed, excuse the phrase, as the soft bigotry of low expectations. Producers think that their target white, middle-American audiences won't relate to people of color in a sophisticated metropolitan comedy. They may be afraid that romantic subplots could lead to distressingly provocative miscegenation (the kind involving a black or Asian man and a white woman, for instance). Or maybe they just don't figure they can whimsically yet credibly depict friendships between whites and nonwhites. To which I can only say: SCRUBS, beeyotch!

Anyway, enough said about SURVIVOR. There's plenty happening out in popland beyond Mark Burnett's wildly lucrative island fantasies. For instance, RED DOORS, Georgia Lee's quite terrific family dramedy about a man coming to terms with the passage of years, and his family's coming to terms with the ways that relationships evolve over time, is opening in Los Angeles and SF on September 22. I saw it at its New York premiere, and was blown away. Here're the deets if you're in L.A. or the Bay:

Laemmle Music Hall - 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, 90211
Fri, Mon-Thu: 5:00, 7:25, 9:55
Sat & Sun: 12:15, 2:35, 5:00, 7:25 & 9:55

Laemmle Playhouse - 673 East Colorado Blvd. Pasadena, 91101
Daily 12:00, 2:20, 4:45, 7:20 & 9:55

Laemmle Town Center - 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino, 91316
Daily at 12:00, 2:20, 4:50, 7:20 & 9:55

Landmark Clay Theatre - 2261 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115
Daily 12:25, 2:30, 4:35, 7:00 & 9:10 (no 7:00 show on Tues. Sept. 26th)

Also opening the same day, nationwide: Jet Li's last wushu film, FEARLESS--which he sees as the culmination of his efforts to express the true meaning of martial arts, begun in HERO and continued in UNLEASHED. Don't worry, he assures, he'll still kick ass on screen...he just won't be doing it with a message in mind.

More about RED DOORS and FEARLESS next column, which will feature interviews with both Georgia Lee and Jet Li. The two films have some surprising commonalities--you read it here first...

And keep an eye peeled for the premiere of HEROES on September 25; sharp-eyed watchers of Asian Americans on primetime will also note that Ming-Na is one of the two leads in the 24-esque kidnap drama VANISHED on Fox. Suzy Nakamura, soon to be seen in Grace Lee's AMERICAN ZOMBIE, is a regular on the Ted Danson vehicle HELP ME HELP YOU. It ain't all about SURVIVOR, after all.


Hey all,

Happy Labor Day weekend! This installment is surely going to provoke a torrent of "Out of the Office" responses, so I'll try to keep this short. This week's SFGate column is about martial arts cinema, why it's in its direst straits in a decade, and how a humble and unexpected hero will save it, using his own unique and unprecedented techniques. Sounds like the plot of a kung fu film, huh? Indeed.

ASIAN POP - A Hero Gets The Call
With the heavyweights beginning to fade, it's time for a new contender to step into the ring. Jeff Yang explains why THE PROTECTOR's Tony Jaa is preserving martial arts cinema for a new generation.

The question some might ask is, why's martial arts cinema worth saving at all? Genres come and go; the Western, for instance, has essentially passed on from relevance, despite latter-day attempts at revival, from THE UNFORGIVEN to DEADWOOD. My argument is that there's something quintessentially important about martial arts films as metaphor. Firstly, martial arts cinema brings the art of war back down to the level of man-on-man and hand-to-hand, in all of its grim reality; sure, the fighting is fleshed out with acrobatics and cast as entertainment, but it's still one on one, flesh to flesh, and in a world of pushbutton genocide, it's good to be reminded that there are real consequences to combat.

More importantly, however, martial arts films show incredibly talented athletes pushing the limits of the human form--demonstrating the awesome abilities that we're capable of, with enough training, discipline, and will. They highlight the superhuman within the human--hopefully, inspiring us to be better. Or even, to be the best.

Those of you who saw Tony Jaa's starring debut in ONG BAK know he's a true prodigy, a physical specimen of frightening speed, power, and agility whose finest moments evoke and even challenge the greatest highlights of the icons he calls his spiritual masters: Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li. His sophomore film, THE PROTECTOR, is being released by The Weinstein Co. on September 8; while it won't win awards for acting, dialogue, or narrative coherence, it's wallpapered with sensational action sequences--some of which defy description. Check it out.

In a very different genre, September 8 is also the New York premiere of RED DOORS, Georgia Lee's acclaimed freshman outing. It's a family comedy/drama that evokes a little EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN and a little SAVING FACE, but manages to carve out a unique space all of its own, drawing accolades like "charming" from Entertainment Weekly and "heartwarming...unique, and universal" from the New York Times.

Plus, if you act fast, you still have the chance to win a date with RED DOORS producer/actress (and noted hottie) Mia Riverton to the movie's premiere--today until 11:59 pm, purchase tickets online at the RED DOORS website: or at the Angelika Film Center or ImaginAsian Theater New York; email your ticket purchase confirmation code to: with "Date Mia" in the subject line; pick out an outfit and cross your fingers. Given the storyline of the film (and Mia's part in it), one must assume that both boys and girls can play--so if you're feeling up to it, check out Ms. Riverton's pics at and get your RED on...

Speaking of doors opening, boxer Dee Hamaguchi (from my column Warrior Women) sent me more info about her September 21 title bout: She'll be challenging minimumweight champion Hollie Dunaway for the WIBA title, at the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, MO. If you happen to be in St. Louis, pop on over and see her go up against a 15-4 boxer who's successfully defended her title twice already. Scary stuff--but underdog or not, we have faith that the Dee Train will punch Dunaway a one-way ticket to the mat...

Also, Angelenos: Comedian Steve Byrne and his Seoul brothers, the Kims of Comedy will be headlining a benefit for the Asian American Drug Abuse Program on Saturday, September 9th in Little Tokyo, LA. (visit for ticket information.) Says Byrne: "The show is special, not only for the fact that its for a wonderful cause, but because its the first time The Kims of Comedy will be performing in Los Angeles together! You can see Bobby Lee of Mad TV, Dr. Ken of NBC's The Office and HBO's Entourage and Kevin Shea from Jimmy Kimmel and The Late Late Show and yours truly all in one night!" Byrne's Comedy Central Presents showcase is also airing the following Wednesday, September 13, at 5 pm EST. That's two chances to feel the Byrne...

And you haven't laughed your ass off by then, you can chuckle away any buttock you have remaining by snagging tix to the hilarious stage satire SIDES: THE FEAR IS REAL--fresh from its acclaimed, sold-out run in the Apple, and launching its Los Angeles invasion from a beachhead at East West Players' David Henry Hwang Theater, September 20 thru October 1, with previews September 15 and 16 (East West Players at 213-625-7000 or visit Sekiya Billman, Cindy Cheung, Paul H. Juh, Peter Kim, Hoon Lee, and Rodney To unite their individual parodic powers to create a giant fighting robot of unlimited comic destruction--don't miss it! By all that's holy and sacred, don't miss it!

Okay, time to sign off and extract whatever pathetic shreds of R&R I can from this lazy Monday.


Short one this time out, because I’m trying to get over a horrendous summer cold—the kind that makes your head feel like it’s filled with egg custard, and causes similar-looking fluids to emit from your nose and mouth—yuck. And now that I’ve whetted your appetites with that image, this week’s SFGate column is all about food—or more precisely, cooking.


The Formula For Yum
By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate

Jeff Yang explores the question: Does the road to deliciousness go through the head or the heart?


The piece is, more or less, an exploration of whether cooking is art or science--or more precisely, a look at how new technologies and scientific methods are invading a discipline that people have historically associated with passion, tradition, and sentiment. One of the most interesting interviews I conducted for the column was with Bryan Zupon, a bright and talented young chef who has embraced the techniques and sensibilities of the "hypermodern" school of cooking. Also known as "molecular gastronomy," hypermodern cuisine uses industrial chemistry and laboratory technology to achieve startling, and sometimes bizarre effects: A typical dessert that Zupon might prepare is the Earl Grey Tea Orb, a confection consisting of a sphere of liquid tea encased in a ball of solid tea jelly, thanks to the magic of modern hydrocolloid gelling agents.

What's unique about Zupon isn't just his age--he's 20 years old and a junior in college--but his entrepreneurial drive: This semester, he's announced that he'll be setting up an eatery in his dorm room on campus, which will serve hypermodern meals for parties of four and up, in exchange for a cash donation. (He's quick to note that he's NOT opening a restaurant or catering facility, which might well be against school regulations, not to mention state tax, housing, and health authority codes.) Zupon's venue is called Z Kitchen (; I'm hoping that I'll have the chance to drop by the next time my wife is visiting her alma mater in the lovely state of North Carolina.

Other quick hits:

Dee Hamaguchi, whom I wrote about in "Warrior Women", shot me a line to say that she's secured another shot at a world title--the WIBA 102 lbs. crown, against Hollie Dunaway in St. Louis, on Sept. 21 at the Ameristar Casino. Dee, who's currently training at New York's famed Gleason's Gym, is inviting the local Asian American community--and anyone else who might be in the St. Louis, MO area--to come watch the fight. "She's a known steroid user, so this should be interesting," she says. Yikes!

More powerful women in the news: Props up to Indra Nooyi, whose ascension to the position of CEO of PepsiCo makes her the first Indian American to head a U.S. company of this scale ($33 billion in annual revenues), and the second most prominent female executive in the Fortune 500, after Patricia Woertz, CEO of agrogiant Archer Daniels Midland. Nooyi was a leader in the company's non-soda growth--one of the brightest spots at the company, whose strategy of diversifying away from cola products has led it to consistent growth over the past five years, and for the first time last December, led to it beating longtime competitor Coke in market cap for the first time in their 108-year rivalry.

Ironically, her appointment comes at a time when cola products are getting slammed in India itself, as a New Delhi-based environmental group and South Indian politicians have barraged Coke and Pepsi with allegations of high levels of pesticides in their products, barring their Indian subsidiaries from making or selling their beverages. Nooyi's appointment has at the least changed the perceptual climate towards Pepsico in one of its biggest opportunity markets, while also impressing analysts on the Street. "Indra Nooyi is truly a star and has been working side by side with Mr. Reinemund over the past several years," Citigroup analyst Bonnie Herzog wrote. "She has been very involved with every major decision PepsiCo has made over the past five-plus years and therefore we expect this transition to be very smooth." Bank of America analyst Brian Spillane added: "One question investors have consistently had the last few years was whether there would be enough to keep Ms. Nooyi interested at Pepsi....This promotion would seem to suggest that there is."

A glass of Pepsi Twist to you, Indra Nooyi--and good luck on the front lines of the global cola wars.

That's it for this installment. Drink lots of fluids, and try to avoid getting infected with late-summar custarditis...


P.S.: Got cable? Don't miss FIGHT SCIENCE on National Geographic Channel, premiering tonight--a documentary on the scientific facts behind the incredible feats of martial arts. "They can crush a stack of concrete slabs with a bare fist, walk with catlike balance on a bamboo pole, and generate deadly kicks and punches at lightning-fast speeds." SWEET! More on it next column...which also catches up with the modern-day heir to the martial arts cinema crown, TONY JAA!


Apologies for this week's installment being late to the gate again; it's been an uncommonly hectic week, full of last-minute travel, triple-stacked deadlines, and general household disasters, although these days, that's pretty much par for the course. I actually did all the research for my "Asian Pop" column a week early, then ended up getting so choked that I got my column in late anyway. Schedule challenges aside, the column was a huge kick to write--especially given the, uh, colorful nature of the individuals I had the pleasure of interviewing for it:


By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Thursday, August 3, 2006

Jeff Yang talks to the reigning rulers of mock-rock to find out why Asian Americans dominate the rising sport of championship air guitar


That's right, *air guitar*--a sport that joins women's golf and competitive eating as one of the few competitive physical activities in which Asians totally own--to the point where air-guitar impresario, and regular second-place finisher Dan "Bjorn Turoque" Crane has been overheard saying "*Never* go up against an Asian in an air guitar competition." We're hardcore! Or at least, we're able to present an incredible facsimile thereof! (On that note, maybe I can convince my editor that I didn't blow my deadline--I "air filed." Doon doon doon.)

The topic of Asians and rocking out--in re: whether we can, and why most people think we can't--is a controversial one, at least if you go by the reader mail I've gotten on this column so far. A number of Asians who play real guitars in actual bands emailed me to underscore the fact that our community is capable of rocking out for real; rest assured that I agree wholeheartedly with that thought, and am not suggesting that Asian American air guitar prowess constitutes the limit of our rocktitude. Far from it, in fact: I think it shows we're so rocktabulous we don't even need instruments to rock out with. And for that, C-Diddy, Sonyk-ROK, Rockness Monster--I salute you.

But there's a whole wide world of Asian American emerging rock talent out there--and though most of it remains relentlessly outside the commercial mainstream, it's only a matter of time before the stereotype of Asians as rock-deficient is beaten unconscious and shoved off a cliff. To that end, I'd like to point to two sterling examples of Asian American rocknicity.

The first is a young guitar prodigy named Kenny Luu, student of Paul Green's School of Rock (yeah, the one that "apparently" inspired the Jack Black movie). 17-year-old Luu is currently on tour with the School of Rock All-Stars (through August 13, check here for cities and dates), and he shreds with the speed and power of a John Deere harvester, wringing sounds out of his axe that cause grown men to weep, and young women to moan. The only online example of his skillz I could find was this YouTube clip, shot at the annual Zappanale Fest; he cuts a solo at about 3 minutes, 58 seconds in that showcases impressive handiwork.

I also got an email from Sheldon Wong, who's of another generation entirely; I don't want to guess his age, but he says he thinks he was something of a pioneer in the San Francisco rock jungle, back in the Sixties and early Seventies. Now relocated to Portland, OR he continues to drop the hammer as the lead guitarist and vocalist for the hard-working and justifiably acclaimed honky-tonk band Bad Motor Scooter; check out their website here.

So we have plenty of empirical evidence that Asian Americans can thrash; the other question is when we'll see a real Asian American rock or pop star. (If we haven't already: quite arguably, Norah Jones, Michelle Branch, Mike Shinoda, Kirk Hammett, Hoku Ho, Allen "" Pineda Lindo, Inga "Foxy Brown" Marchand, Doug Robb, Debelah Morgan, Shaffer "Ne-Yo" Smith, Kelis Rogers, Sean Lennon, and, um, Eddie and Alex Van Halen all make the grade as Americans of Asian heritage, though they don't identify themselves primarily as Asian American.)

Comes now a rather nuttily worded press release touting a young woman named Adrienne Lau, who has quite shockingly scored a Top 20 tune on the Billboard singles chart with the song "Wanna Be Happy." charting at #16 is incredibly impressive, especially for a song that I must honestly admit causes fountains of blood to gush from my eardrums. The apparent engine of Hong Kong-born Lau's popularity: Over one million MySpace friends, including such notables as Yao Ming and Beyonce Knowles. (Her page also shows pictures of her hanging out with, or at least standing next to, Kanye, Nelly, John Legend, and Quentin Tarantino.)

Adrienne's first single, "Hypnotic Love," was a duet with Jin, formerly known as The Emcee, formerly known as Jin Tha MC. You know the one. The video also has Mike Tyson in it, for some inexplicable reason. I find this Asian American team-up quite fascinating, if only because I'm not sure it's happened before. Plus he gets to put the mack on her a little. It's a strange but transfixing experience to see the now-standard rap/R&B video narrative (pimp daddy + bootylicious hotness) cast out with Asian playas. And Mike Tyson.

Anyway, more power to her. It's not my style of music, but I don't hang out on MySpace either, except for journalistic purposes, particularly if my wife is reading this. One can only hope that Miss Lau's success inches the door a little further open for other Asian American musicians to follow.

And speaking of someone who was the quintessential example of someone who pushed open the door for his fellow Asian American artists, I want to belatedly memorialize the passing of one of the true greats of our community--a brilliant performer, a leader, and a role model. Mako, born Makoto Iwamatsu, died on July 21 of esophageal cancer, at the age of 72. He was the cofounder and first artistic director of East West Players, the nation's oldest professional Asian American theater company, and had a career as an actor of stage, screen, and television spanning four decades. His accolades include nominations for the Tony Awards (Pacific Overtures) and the Oscars (The Sand Pebbles); he leaves behind a wife and two daughters, as well as a legacy of pride, courage, and honor that anyone might envy. He will be missed.

Which leads me to sign off with this thought: Support Asian American arts. And Asian American artists. They're laying the foundation upon which our future generations will build their identity, their self esteem, their sense of passion and purpose. It's not just about entertainment--it's about culture, the force that makes us who we are, and what we appear to be to others. Buy a CD, see a show, subscribe to a magazine, purchase a book. Donate. Art doesn't make itself.


Well, it’s been a fun two weeks since the last edition of this humble mailblog.

In my little corner of the universe (the slightly ghetto North side of Park Slope, Brooklyn), Al Gore’s intimations of imminent climate catastrophe have never seemed more true. First we had a series of three days of torrential downpour—water falling in sheets from the sky, really biblical-feeling weather (and not in that forgive thine enemies sort of way, either). Then an unabated heatwave that lasted another three days—triple digits each day, the kind of sticky, brain-fusing temperature that even air conditioning can only dull. Not that people didn’t try to refrigerate their way to relief…walking around my little cul de sac, you could hear the collective humming of dozens of maxed-out ACs, a sound like a swarm of angry bees.

Which is why it wasn’t entirely a surprise when Con Ed’s overtaxed transformers strained and then blew. First there were rolling brownouts, with appliances flickering madly, clocks resetting themselves every five minutes, lights dimming themselves to a nasty orange glow. By nighttime, a smell like a runaway tire fire was belching forth from the bowels of the subway system, and an armada of fire trucks, repair vans, and bulldozers had descended on our nabe, which was mired in pitch blackness. There were literally six blocks of outage, centered around my house: A patch of power failure too big to easily escape, but not big enough to allow easy looting. (Damn you, Circuit City, and your oh so tempting flat-panel displays!)

Despite the apocalyptic conditions, I still managed to squeeze out an SFGate column this week--one that helps rectify a glaring omission in my previous piece on Asian heroes in comics, namely, coverage of South Asian supers:



Watch out, DC and Marvel: A new line of comics, backed by the world’s wealthiest maverick, is bringing the heroes of India’s vivid heritage of myth and mysticism into the 21st century.


The new comics publisher I write about, Virgin Comics, is the brainchild of Gotham Chopra and Sharad Devarajan, who serve as the enterprise's chief creative officer and CEO respectively. Gotham's eclectic resume includes work as a war correspondent for Channel One, authoring the books CHILD OF THE DAWN and FAMILIAR STRANGERS, co-creating the indie comic title BULLETPROOF MONK, and serving as creative consultant for Current TV, Al Gore's cable startup. (Look, Al: Between reinventing television, running a global investment firm, advising Google, and saving the world from carbon-emissions disaster, you've clearly shown you're still willing to take on ambitious projects; stop being so damn coy and just throw your hat back into the presidential ring. Odds are you'll get elected. Again.)

Chopra also happens to be the son of bestselling lifestyle guru and inspirational speaker Deepak Chopra, which explains, as Gotham himself is quick to say, why his father is one of a trinity of "chief visionaries" associated with the company. (The other two are celebrated filmmaker Shekhar Kapur and the bankroller of the company, Sir Richard Branson, which you probably guessed already, given the venture's name.)

Gotham's partner in Virgin, Sharad Devarajan, is also incredibly interesting: He's a New York-born, Syracuse U. educated desi who started his professional career as an intern for DC Comics. The experience led him to a brainstorm: There are a billion people in India; a huge percentage of them are under the age of 20. Why not bring the iconic heroes of U.S. comics to the subcontinent? Founding Gotham Entertainment (total coincidence, apparently), he cut his first deal with Marvel, and soon released the "transcreated" Spider-Man: India--featuring a dhoti-wearing, mystically powered webslinger named Pavitr Prabhakar. Tie-ups with DC, Mad Magazine, and Warner Bros. soon followed--leading to 13 titles in all, drawing over 1.5 million readers per month throughout South Asia.

"Spider-Man being introduced to India is mostly about trying to take advantage of a business opportunity," says Abhi Tripathi of (one of the most lucid, interesting, and wittiest groupblogs out there; desi or not, you should check it out). "If you can get even a small percentage of a population of a billion people hooked on your comic, then it's worth it."

Abhi's got a point...and it's the same one people have been making around China for a decade. The market opportunity in India and China is so huge and open for so many products we take for granted here that those who enter first and lock up brand awareness fast are virtually guaranteed a certain level of success.

While established brands are all trying to figure out how to mate with the Elephant and the Dragon, Virgin Comics is an interesting example of a "pond-straddler" startup--one of the first of what I suspect will be many in the near future. Its entire business plan rests on the idea of riding growth on two sides of the Pacific: Surging consumer power in Asia, and soaring interest in Asian stuff here in the West. The two trends are related, of course--but few companies, particularly new ones, has yet leveraged them successfully.

Pratik M. of the blog Nerve Endings Firing Away ( and confounder of the other big desi groupblog,, makes the point that the world is moving towards cultural convergence: "The world is fast becoming a melting pot of material that qualifies as entertainment," he says. "The 'Long Tail,' as Wired Editor Chris Anderson mentions, makes even niches marketable now, so homogeneity is out, and we can look forward to more 'remixed' choices than ever before."

Businesses would do well to consider the implications.

Anyway, Virgin's first books are out now--DEVI and SNAKE WOMAN, and RAMAYAN REVISITED and THE SADHU are arriving soon. The last is penned by Gotham himself, and from what I've seen of its previews, shares honors with the still-mysterious SEVEN BROTHERS (from Garth Ennis and John Woo!) as the title I'm most hotly anticipating.

But let's not leave the big two out of the picture entirely yet. I received the first issue of the all-new ATOM from DC Comics, and I have to say, I'm pretty impressed. Early solicitations described Ryan Choi, the new Mighty Mite, as a "young hotshot professor who's filling the extra spot on Ivy University's teaching staff... and who inadvertently ends up filling the old Atom's super-heroic shoes." Sounded a bit cheesy, to tell the truth (whoa, he's hunky AND smart), but writer Gail Simone pulls it off--Choi comes off as witty, earnest, a bit nerdy, yet as capable of thinking with his fists as his head...think an Asian Peter Parker. Peter Park, maybe. (Well, okay, he's Chinese, so maybe not.)

I think it has promise, especially since DC editor Dan DiDio says he's going to be around for the long haul. I'll be keeping an eye out for him.

Elsewhere in pop, Mike Kang shared the fact that even as THE MOTEL hits L.A. (premiere's next Friday, kids), he's gearing up to start shooting his next feature in August--a "Korean American gangster flick" set in Flushing, NY, to be produced by Teddy Zee (who also backed Alice Wu's SAVING FACE). John Cho's attached, as is Han Yeo Rum from the Korean chiller SAMARITAN GIRL). He's looking for more cast (older Korean actors/actresses and teens) and crew--particularly, a DGA/DGA eligible 1st assistant director based in New York. If you're interested or no anybody who might be, ping his line producer, Sabine Schenk, at

Meanwhile, Angry Asian Man (, though if you aren't bookmarking him already, you oughta be) has some intriguing news about how Bruce Lee's family--specifically, his brothers Robert and Peter and his sisters Phoebe and Agnes--have authorized and are co-producing a movie about him, hoping to dispel the bad craziness that came out of the woodwork after his passing on July 20, 1973. The film is targeted for 2008, his 35th memorial anniversary. One hopes the results will do justice to the man, his life, and his message, though the involvement of family doesn't necessarily guarantee that; even the best of the previous attempts, Rob Cohen's DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY, based on a book by Bruce's wife Linda Lee Cadwell, leaned on conspiracy theories, superstitious curses, and the like in "explaining" Lee's death.

For now, the upcoming Bruce Lee tribute film I'm putting my money on is Justin Lin's FINISHING THE GAME, in production now. Casting notices pulled the tarp off the storyline a few weeks ago: It's a comedy about the posthumous attempts to complete Lee's final film, GAME OF DEATH, which Bruce shot just 12 minutes of before his untimely passing. A director assigned the project is tasked with casting a "Bruce Lee clone" from an eccentric pool of auditioners--which, we assume, will include all of our favorites from BETTER LUCK TOMORROW. It's a setup that offers fantastic potential for dark hilarity with a scalpel-sharp message behind it, and I think Justin can pull it off. Can't hardly wait.

And that's it for this week. Stay out of the blistering heat. Or torrential rain. Depending on which day it is, of course.


Aloha, yo. For those of you who had the chance to take four-day vacays, welcome back. I myself am still wringing out my brain from a fab, week-long trip to the Asian American mothership, Hawaii, which hostCed this year's Asian American Journalists Association National Convention.

There's nothing quite like the AAJACon--it's probably your best chance to see your favorite news personalities and ink-stained wretches out of corporate drag, having fun, and generally behaving like goofballs. And of course, putting a whole bunch of print journalists and broadcast journalists in the same place at the same time is an interesting way of observing the effects of culture shock firsthand, S.E. Hinton style ("It doesn't *matter*! Greasers will still be greasers and socs will still be socs!").

Though parenting and job constraints prevented me from hitting the past two conventions, this one was a must--not only because of its locale (Hawaii doesn't suck) but also because on a whim, I'd submitted my SFGate column for the AAJA National Journalism Awards, and accidentally won in the category of Best Online Article (Unlimited Subject Matter), for my August 25, 2005 column "Robot Nation: Why Japan, and not America, is likely to be the world's first cyborg society." Which basically means, "Hey! I beat the other guy that entered!", but it's still an honor to be recognized by your peers, etc., etc.

Anyway, four days of madcap Networking and Professional Development in Honolulu, it was time to ditch Oahu and head for the Garden Island, Kauai. It was there that I stumbled onto the subject of this week's SFGate column:

ASIAN POP: Viva Las Vegans
By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Friday, July 6, 2006

On holiday in Hawaii, confirmed carnivore Jeff Yang visits Kauai's world-famous Blossoming Lotus vegan restaurant and meditates on diet, culture and the joys of vegan cuisine. Who knew there were joys?

Eating really delicious vegan food was something of a revelation to me. I know there are other popular veggie places--heck, I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where you can't throw a soy cracker without hitting an organic smoothie bar, macrobiotic grocery, or Yoga/Pilates salon.

But my experiences with vegan cookery in the past have generally been fair at best; I can't get my taste buds to suspend disbelief in the unusual consistency and dubious flavor of fake steak, shamburgers and faux fowl, and I'm just too committed to nasty junky ways of preparing food to get behind the whole raw cuisine thing. (In fact, I’ve spent much of my life on a secret quest for the evil-food Holy Grail: an entrée that’s both French-fried and hickory-smoked. With gravy. Something like chicken-fried ribs might fit the bill--ah, if only a forward-thinking Southern chef would take up the challenge...)

Blossoming Lotus? I'd eat there again in a second. Not to "convert," not even for health or ethical or moral reasons--just because it's a welcome new culinary experience. And for what it's worth, no more than four percent of Americans are vegetarian, and as few as 0.2 percent are vegan; if the 200-odd million of us who are omnivores could be convinced to eat vegan just one day out of the week, that would be functionally equivalent to getting 14 percent of the population--28 million--to go vegan full-time, an increase of some 7000 percent.

Americans eat an average of 68 pounds of meat per capita each year. If my math is correct (and hey, it's been a long time since the SATs), this translates to a savings of 1.9 billion pounds of beef a year, or--given the average "yield" of 500 pounds of beef per cow--about 3.8 million cows. That's a hell of a lot of cows. And that's just cows. Americans eat 87 pounds of chicken per capita, 51 pounds of pork...the list goes on and on.

Something to think about.

Anyway, it's time to move on from meat to rice...Rice Daddies, that is, which, as you know, is the daddyblog I contribute to, along with a bunch of shockingly funny, talented, and wise dads. Head Daddy Herder Jason "Daddy in a Strange Land" Sperber has kicked a little bloggerbutt and gotten the posting flow steady and strong; if you haven't been reading, it's time to dig back in. My most recent contribution is a bit on the recent discovery by Eminent Scientists that fatherhood chemically changes your brain:

Published Friday, June 30, 2006 by InstantYang.

So apparently, a team of behavioral scientists at Randolph-Macon College have done some research involving multiple sets of male deer mice that seems to indicate that exposure to children creates fundamental chemical changes to your brain. For one thing, this seems to provide the first scientific support of the age-old t-shirt slogan "INSANITY IS HEREDITARY--YOU GET IT FROM YOUR KIDS." (Is there anything t-shirts can't teach us?)

Jason's also let loose a viral quizzo, the "APA Parenting Meme," which the Rice Dads and their mommy counterparts have been responding to in turn--I'll be taking an at bat soon enough. But if any of you want to share as well, here's the meme in full. Kick it to me with your name, email, and nom de blog (or post it to your own blog and send me a link) and I'll gladly crosspost it to Rice Daddies:

Published by daddy in a strange land.

Mombloggers and dadbloggers who happen to be Asian Pacific American (APA) have been sharing their unique experiences at the intersection of race, culture, family and parenting with the blogosphere for a while now. We [we being Eliaday of the Kimchi Mamas and daddy in a strange land of the Rice Daddies] thought an APA Parenting Meme would be a fun way to open up dialogue and get ideas flowing (for those of us afflicted with writer's block or blog fatigue). We're not experts, and in no way are we trying to be definitive or essentialist—-we just hope that these questions will get us started talking about experiences we have in common as APA parents, things we don't talk about and share enough. We're posting our answers to this meme on both our solo and group blogs and tagging 3 of our blogging brothas and sistas to represent and then tag some more. The questions are short, but, like everything, are open to interpretation—-as is this meme, so hapas, transracial adoptees, non-Asians who married in, immigrants to 6th-generation, parents of teens or folks still planning their first, you're all game.

1. I am:

2. My kids are:

3. I first realized I was APA when:

4. People think my name is:

5. The family tradition I most want to pass on is:

6. The family tradition I least want to pass on is:

7. My child's first word in English was:

8. My child's first non-English word was:

9. The non-English word/phrase most used in my home is:

10. One thing I love about being an APA parent is:

11. One thing I hate about being an APA parent is:

12. The best thing about being part of an APA family is:

13. The worst thing about being part of an APA family is:

14. To me, being Asian Pacific American means:

And heck, if any of you APA daddy types out there is interested in joining the Rice Daddy crack commando blogsquad, shoot me a message with some info about yourself and (if you have one) your current blog--I'll pass it on to Jason, as the roster has started to grow.

Some quick announcements:

Ed Kahana shot me a release about the premiere of the indie, feature-length martial arts action comedy CONTOUR (, presented by a collective of self-made martial-arts stunt studs (and one studette) known as the Stunt People ( The movie looks a little homemade, but some of the choreography and definitely the overall vibe of what they do channels old school Jackie Chan and the Yuen Brothers shiznit. All I've seen is the trailer, but color me impressed so far. Watch this space for more. The July 13 premiere at San Francisco's Four Star Theatre is sold out; there are two more screenings, on July 27 and August 11, so if you're in the Bay Area, check 'em out.

More comic antics: Comedian HENRY CHO--the funniest Dixie-fried Korean American standup I've had the pleasure to watch--has a one-hour special debuting on Comedy Central on July 14; his first-ever DVD/CD, WHAT'S THAT CLICKIN' NOISE? drops four days later, on July 18. Check out his website for more deets.

And for those of you who are fans of PUFFY--the J-pop girl duo flava, that is--Ami and Yumi are currently on their 2006 Splurge Splurge Splurge Tour of the U.S. I've seen 'em in concert, and they're legit bubblegum fun. These days, given their 'toon success with THE PUFFY AMIYUMI SHOW, you may have to wade through a sea of tweens to get in the door...

Puffy AmiYumi 'Splurge Splurge Splurge' 2006 US Tour
July 8 Theater of the Living Arts, Philadelphia PA
July 9 9:30 Club, Washington, DC
July 11 River to River Festival @ The World Financial Center, New York, NY
July 12 Avalon Ballroom, Boston, MA
July 14 Bogart's, Cincinnati, OH
July 15 Vic Theatre, Chicago, IL
July 18 St. Andrew's Hall, Detroit, MI
July 19 House of Blues Cleveland, Cleveland, OH

Meanwhile, after reading my column "WARRIOR WOMEN," David Wells of the National Film Preservation Foundation wrote in to share his impressive fansite dedicated to classic Hong Kong superstar CONNIE CHAN PO CHU. Chan, one of the "Seven Cantonese Princesses" whose cinematic exploits enchanted folks throughout Asia during the Sixties, acted in her share of woman-warrior epics--but was notable for frequently playing a *boy*, in romantic roles opposite femme fellow Princess Josephine Siao Fong Fong. Unfortunately, Chan is mostly unknown here in the U.S., where the mad, mod flicks of Hong Kong's teenybopper canon never saw release (and where Chan's other, Cantonese Opera-inspired works would draw little more than puzzled stares). If you're sufficiently bilingual, however, you can find many of these films for bargain prices at your local Chinatown...

And that's it for this post-Independence Day edition of Instant Yang!


So another Father's Day has come and gone, and I just wanted to send out belated props to all of my fellow dads, especially the members of the group daddyblog I contribute to, Rice Daddies. If you haven't checked it out, please do; in addition to being one of the sharpest and funkiest parenting communities on the net (if I do say so on behalf of the RD boyz), it's also a second home/support group to some of the Asian American community's most interesting and talented authors and cultural critics, writing under blogonyms of the paternal persuasion. Plus me.

But none of us Rice Daddies would be daddies at all without the moms and grandmas and wives of our lives. This week's SFGate column is a contemplation of strong Asian women, and how they've exploded tired old stereotypes of geisha-like meekness and passivity:

ASIAN POP: Warrior Women
By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Friday, June 23, 2006

Passive? Submissive? Ha! Jeff Yang talks to two hard-hitting Asian American femmes: pro boxer Dee Hamaguchi and actor (and black belt) Brenda Song, star of the new Disney Channel original movie, "Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior."

I count myself fortunate to have grown up surrounded by women whose force of will can bend spoons and send ripples through the fabric of reality--women who are smart, independent, confident, competent, capable. Women who can do just about anything I can do but pee standing up.

The only liability, if there is one, is the occasional feeling I get when I'm around my wife, my sister, my mom, and my mother-in-law that I'm more of a luxury than a necessity. It's not a conscious thing on their part (at least I don't think it is), but, you know, I've had to travel a lot recently, and every time I return home, things seem to have run like Swiss-crafted clockwork in my absence. I'm always tempted to find specious ways to appear useful: "The TiVo is almost at max capacity--it's a good thing I'm here to erase redundant reruns, or we might miss a vital episode of SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE. Stand back, people--*I'll* take care of this!"

The one member of our family who provides constant validation of my continued existence is our son Hudson, who remains curiously (and, I'll admit, gratifyingly) fixated on daddy as the center of the universe. At day care, he "wrote" a poem as a special gift for Mommy. The title? "My Daddy Beautiful." Heather's response--after hugging and kissing him thanks: "How, exactly, is this a Mother's Day present?"

Couldn't hide a smirk at that. Make room for Daddy!

Anyway, I'll keep it short this week. Just a couple of quick reminders: The first is that tomorrow, June 24, at the L.A. Film Fest, Sung Kang stars alongside Kelly Hu and Russell Wong in Chris Chan lee's UNDOING. I haven't seen it yet, but I'm a big fan of Lee's debut feature YELLOW, and y'all know about my giant man-crush on Sung Kang. (Just kidding. Well, sorta.)

For those of you in the New York area, June 28 is, of course, the debut of THE MOTEL--directed by Michael Kang and starring Sung Kang, it offers double the Kangtastic action. Check it out at the Film Forum--and if you're not in NYC, keep an eye on the film's official site for when and where you can get your dose of Kangeriffic goodness.

One last reminder: MTVK, the third channel in MTV World's trifecta of channels targeting young Asian Americans, debuts June 27 on DirecTV as part of the Korean Direct package. They're holding an online contest to pick the very first video to be broadcast on the new network. It'd be great if we could give a Korean American indie artist props here...and while there are a number of good choices (Far East Movement, Heather Park, Mike Park), I'm throwing down for the beautiful and talented Maggie Kim and her video for "Obvious (Want You)." Vote early and vote often, but cast your vote, peeps.